As it comes time to launch a website, finding a reliable web hosting solution can be a challenge. While you will find an innumerable selection of hosting service providers by a simple Google search, certain criteria will help you to evaluate the most appropriate service and the best value. After 10 years of hunting for the right web hosting service I’ve complied a criteria to help evaluate these services. The following list includes the most important aspects to look at when evaluating hosting services.
Using the most used providers isn’t the best way to go as many consumers use very poor web hosting services. Following customer testimonials is usually futile as customers will say just about anything if they’re given credit by service providers.
- Type of Hosting
- Quality of Service
- Programming Compatibility
- Level of Access and Control
- DNS/Domain Name Hosting
- Email Accounts
1. Types of Hosting:
The type of hosting refers to the way in which providers configure servers to provide hosting.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Many provided offer a range of hosting types. Depending on the client’s site requirements different types of hosting services can be more appropriate. Most projects will simply need a shared host where the provider runs an enterprise level server and rents it out to a number of website owners. This shares the cost of the server across multiple accounts making it a good deal for all. Another popular hosting scenario is virtual servers where you will have your own instance of a server operating system running on shared hardware. This can yield better performance yet few clients will need the flexibility this affords for a steeper price. Finally, dedicated hosting, where the hosting provider rents out a stand-alone box for hundreds of dollars a month is overkill unless the client expects major traffic.
2. Quality of Service
The Uptime, Responsiveness, Consistency, Stability are all incredibly important to the perception of the hosting and ultimately the site being served. Many of these things are unfortunately hard to judge until you’ve actually signed up. Read the Provider’s forums or other online communities for answers to some of these aspects.
This is the one aspect that hosts seem to always get wrong. Usually a simple question to a support team takes more that 24hrs to get a reply on. Some hosting services do not even have phone numbers (Dreamhost), others have you sit on hold for hours (remind you of Telus?). How can you know about the quality of support for a provider? Ask around, try them out for a month and find out.
For most projects, you should not need to pay more than $10 a month for typical programming abilities and a database backend. Make sure to evaluate on more than price since all are competitively priced and focus on reputation for uptime and customer service as they will pay off down the road.
5. Programming Compatibility:
By the time you are selecting your hosting provider, the programming language for the project has long been decided. This will probably be the first major filter through which you can evaluate hosting providers. Make sure you find a provider that supports the version you coded for in terms of both front-end and database.
6. Level of Access and Control
What type of control panel is offered with the service? Do you have command line or Shell access to your account? How about root level access?
This should not be a major issue as most competitive hosting providers provide ample space for the typical service. One thing to keep in mind though is the database space will probably be included in this total, so if you foresee your client’s website compiling a significant amount of data, you may want to opt for more. Keep in mind that it takes a large amount of data to fill up one gig of space unless there’s video on your site.
Bandwidth refers to the amount of data you will be sending to your end users in a certain period of time (usually measured in gigabits per month). While it usually takes some pretty heavy traffic to rack up a high volume of data, you may want to focus on this if your client has large files (big PDFs or images) or expects to have quite a few users using it often. This is the large cost driver of most popular sites, but for small projects should not be a huge concern.
9. DNS/Domain Name Hosting:
This can be an important extra service, which, when coupled with a hosting plan, saves many headaches down the road. It is possible to have the domain name hosted on a registrar’s Domain Name Servers (DNS), but clients that wish to purchase a domain name or are willing to transfer the name to the hosting provider should seriously consider consolidating all of the services to one provider. This will put all of the services in one customer service representative’s lap to fix when ever anything goes wrong, rather than the client having to contact multiple support lines each blaming the other.
10. Email Accounts:
This feature is fairly self explanatory. Your client might already have email accounts, making the extra ones provided unnecessary. One important thing to remember if the client wants to use their existing email accounts is that the site’s domain should have email forwarding set up to allow the client to use @theirdomain.com in correspondence. Many providers will give a certain number of full-featured email accounts with actual storage space and many forwarders where email gets immediately forwarded on.
Also consider serving email from another service — safer, more secure and better performance.
We have offered a number of clients the Google Apps email service and have received nothing but great reviews.
Next up, I’ll post my personal favourite hosting companies, which i have used in various different capacities.